Sona Mohapatra won’t shut up

Sona Mohapatra is back doing what she does best — shocking it back to those that deserve it. With music director Anu Malik finally addressing the MeToo allegations levelled against him by Mohapatra and others, Sona has hit back in an open letter, advising the ‘Indian Idol’ judge to check into sex rehab.

Mohapatra’s sheer guts to call a spade a spade is portrayed brilliantly in Deepti Gupta’s docu, Shut Up Sona, which had received a good response at the MAMI festival. Obviously, it was time to get to know more about this inspiring woman who ‘says what she feels, and stands by what she believes in’...

Why did you choose to make this documentary on Sona Mohapatra in particular, given that there are other celebrities who are also vocal about various feminism related issues and are fighting inequality?

Sona is one of the most inspiring women today. I found in her an important and relevant role model for the times we live in. I have known her for over a decade and have closely observed her journey and have always loved her voice.

She is an entertainer par excellence and can move stadiums full with her music, but she doesn’t stop there. She uses her voice in her songs, and in protest. She says what she feels, and stands by what she believes in. She uses her art to truly express herself.

Yet, how she is received by the industry at large has always perplexed me. For a person of such immense talent and power, she hasn’t found support in the industry, she is often regarded as a trouble maker, her timeline is often full of trolls who tell her to ‘just shut up and sing’, and are sometimes downright abusive! Even now, she is one of the few voices that are speaking out in the MeToo movement against Anu Malik, who has been accused by multiple women.

The film however explores the person behind the artist, the price one pays for speaking one’s mind and not pandering to popular expectations. It would be easy for a beautiful woman like her to just be dolled up and entertain, but she goes to excruciating lengths to voice herself, even to her own detriment sometimes.

In the film, when IIT asks her for the third time in a row to bring Ram Sampath (her musician husband) to a show because ‘they won’t have female headliners’ she writes an open letter that puts her out of university festivals for a whole year.

What is more important to her is to call out the sexism to set something straight. To her, that is the reward. Definitely there are other celebrities who stand for a cause, but her protest is loud and relentless and she disregards the personal consequences. In that she is unique.

You have seen Sona and tried to show different sides of her. Did you find her different from what she has been portrayed by others?

I don’t think such an intimate portrayal of an artist has had much precedence. Sona is known by her music and media presence, the things she chooses to talk about...

My effort was to understand what connects her music to her activism and the issues she raises her voice about. And also to keep intact the spirit of fun through the film.

She has been choosing to sing Khusro and Meera, and Kabir. Mystics who questioned social order in their times inspire her, like when she says from the stage, “Artists who go beyond entertainment are my mind of artists.” The idea was to explore the human being she is, the struggles, complexities, the grey shades.

The things that course through an artist’s mind when she is in make-up and about to go on stage, while someone is trying to paint her face and she is in riyaz.

The gaze is not only that of a filmmaker, an admirer of her voice, but also a friend who aligns with her politics. It is a unique combination of a political musical, which could only be possiblewith a protagonist as unique as Sona.

What has been your experience and observation about the issues persisting in the industry?

It’s not just in the film industry but in every industry that women who ask to be equal and protest find themselves falling out of favour. Sona is symbolic of all women in our country who choose to stand up and speak out.

Here is a woman who is successful, who is beautiful and even she has a hard time negotiating an equal space, so it’s important to understand her need for protest, and how one’s art gives a person the fortitude to fight the odds because art is expression and a source of joy for the person expressing themselves. Just as Sona’s art is her expression, the same way the film is mine. I see myself reflected in her, and the idea was to make any audience feel that way.

Your documentary received a positive response. Do you feel it will make a difference in the industry and do you plan to have more?

MAMI was the first festival for us and we hope to take the film to the world now, we have received a lot of faith from many amazing people like Guneet Monga, Smriti Kiran, Anupama Chopra and others.

We received the Critics Guild Award Special Mention at MAMI where the panel comprised of some of the most admirable film critics, Rajeev Masand, Shubhra Gupta and Shubha Shetty Saha. It’s such an honour to have the faith of such stalwarts! It was very moving to see people’s response at our premiere.

India doesn’t have a strong documentary culture, but regardless we had a housefull screening and the response of the crowd was amazing all through.

The marketing plans are still being worked upon, but the idea is to get it across to the largest audience possible.  We are hoping for a journey that is as fulfilling as the making of the film.